I just finished the first two YA historical fiction books for the YA Historical Fiction Challenge (see this post). They were Under a War Torn Sky and A Troubled Peace by L. M. Elliott.
They tell the tale of a young American pilot who, in the first of the two books, is shot down over occupied France in 1944, and must find his way home with the help of the maquis, or the French Resistance. The second book deals with the aftermath of his experiences in France. The two books tell important stories, ones that are not usually covered in American school history curricula.
What I liked was that the stories were compelling. You wanted to know what happened to Henry Forester, and you hoped that everything would turn out OK for Henry and all the people who helped him. I thought that A Trouble Peace was actually the more important of the two books, because of the two stories it tells – that of Henry’s attempts to deal with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and that of the nation of France trying to put themselves back together after the end of World War 2. Many have seen the images of celebrations in the streets of Paris when the war with Germany was over, but less well known are the tales of French men and women attacking their own people because they were believed to be Nazi collaborators. Young women who had consorted with German soldiers (some because they were doing so to get information for the French Resistance) were assaulted by mobs, their heads shaven as a visible mark of their shame.
However, I found the writing itself was disappointing, with a lot more in the way of “telling” rather than “showing. The main character feels like crying, but we don’t feel his emotional and physical pain, it isn’t described to us in a visceral way. While there was a sense of tension throughout both books, the level was very mild, and didn’t convey the full impact of the terror of being lost in a foreign country occupied by a hostile force, not knowing the language, and never knowing whether the next person could be the one to shoot to kill.
This may be partly because it is young adult fiction (Amazon lists the book for grades 7 and up). However, Scholastic lists 1984 by George Orwell at a grade level of 8, and that book scared the crap out of me when I read it in college. In the end, who the audience is or what their age is should not matter – the writing should be good regardless, and given the subject matter, I think an additional level of tension and fear would not be amiss.
A final note about the level of historical accuracy. The author’s website has a recommended reading list, but neither her books nor the site indicate which books were part of her research. There is a page on the site that addresses the “how much is true” question, and there is also a list of websites to go along with the recommended reading. I had the opportunity to meet the author at a professional development event. She discussed her research with us, and so I know that she did an immense amount of it, however, that is not evident on her site. The lack of a complete bibliography is an unfortunate oversight.